Alcohol and drugs had taken her son from her so often that she doubted that he’d ever get sober.
It was 2:45 a.m. according to the clock radio on my night table. I strained my ears for the sound of my son David’s car pulling up to the house, but heard nothing. Will this be the night he doesn’t make it home at all?
Of my five children David had always attracted the most trouble. At two he pulled a dresser over on himself trying to climb it. At six he barely missed being hit by a car while he was riding his bike.
“His guardian angel sure gets a workout,” my husband, Jeff, and I used to say.
David was 19 now, and finding more trouble than even his guardian angel could handle. He went around with a bad crowd whose main source of fun was drinking and doing drugs, and David was all too happy to join them. It looked like David’s guardian angel had given up on guiding him. So have I, I thought, staring up at the ceiling.
Jeff and I had tried everything to get David to turn his life around. Ultimatums, punishments, pleading. David had promised us a dozen times to change his life.
“I’ve really learned my lesson,” he’d said six months before. That was after spending a night in jail. He’d been drinking and a policeman found him sleeping it off in his car by the side of the road. He’d charged David with intent to drive under the influence of alcohol.
“I see where my life is heading,” David told us when we got him home. “No more drugs and no more drinking from now on.”
But the next night he went out to meet his friends again. “I’m not going to do anything,” he assured us as he pulled on his coat. “I’m just going to hang out. If anybody offers me drugs I’ll just say no.”
I wasn’t surprised when he came home high again the next morning. David couldn’t even admit he had a problem, much less ask for the help he needed to fix it. The words came easy enough, but he wasn’t ready to make the kind of changes in his life necessary to give up drugs. For the kind of friends he had now, getting together was just an excuse to get high, and I no longer believed David’s promises about a new start. Lord, David doesn’t want my help–or yours. But could you keep his guardian angel close?
I heard a car outside and sat up in bed. The front door opened and David’s footsteps sounded on the stairs outside my bedroom. Thank you, God, for bringing him home safe one more night! I pulled on my robe and went to David’s room.
“Are you all right?” I asked from the doorway. “It’s very late.”
David blinked up at me. There was something different about him, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. It must be the drugs, I thought.
“Mom,” David said. “An angel drove me home from the party tonight. I swear.”
“An angel?” I said. Yes, definitely drugs. I was familiar with their effects by now.
“I went to a party out in the woods,” David said. “I was high. I started to hallucinate. I thought there were spiders crawling all over my skin.”
“I knew I had to get out of there, but I wasn’t fit to drive. My car was parked on the street. Remember how you and Dad used to say I had a guardian angel? I asked God to send him to help me get home.” He frowned, as if he were trying to remember what happened.
“I must have tried to drive, but it wasn’t me at the wheel, Mom. I swear I was in the passenger seat. An angel was behind the wheel!”
I walked into the room and sat down next to him. He was my son, and I loved him no matter what. Even if I hated seeing him like this. “It’s okay now. You’re home. You’re safe.”
“The next thing I knew we were parked in front of the house. Mom, God sent me an angel. I’m done messing up. I’m going to change.”
“Okay,” I said, but how many times had I heard this same speech from David? He would promise to try harder to stay away from drugs and alcohol, but he wouldn’t really make a change. “Get some sleep now.”
The next day I told Jeff about David’s angel story. “He must have still been hallucinating,” I said. David’s angel was no more real than his promises. It was all just a fantasy brought on by the drugs. “I’m just glad he didn’t get hurt. Or hurt anyone else.”
The phone rang and my daughter answered it. “David,” she called. “It’s your friend on the phone!”
David came into the kitchen. He looked at the phone and shook his head. “Tell him I can’t talk to him,” he said.
Jeff and I looked at each other in surprise. David never refused friends’ calls.
“I can’t be with those guys anymore,” David said. “If I hang with them I’ll just do what I always do.” He sat down at the table between his dad and me. “I meant what I said last night,” he said. “I really want to change. But I don’t think I can do it alone. I need help.”
I grabbed David’s hand tightly in my own. “David, we want to help you. If only you would really let us.”
That night David stayed at home. And the next night. And the rest of the week. Every evening I expected to see him pulling on his jacket to meet his friends, but he continued to refuse their phone calls. Don’t let yourself believe it, I thought as I went to bed one night, grateful that David was in his own room. Sooner or later he’ll go back to his old ways. He always does.
Months went by and David stayed away from drugs. I knew that for sure, because he never left the house without one of us with him. “Just in case I’m tempted to get in touch with my friends,” he’d explained. He even agreed to attend family counseling sessions and talk about his struggle to our pastor.
“Did David tell you about the angel?” I asked the pastor one Sunday.
“Yes, he insists he was driven home that night. He wasn’t behind the wheel.”
“He was hallucinating from the drugs,” I said. “He doesn’t remember driving himself home.”
“I don’t think it matters if it’s true or not,” the pastor said. “David draws a lot of strength to fight his addiction from thinking God sent him an angel. Who are we to tell him it didn’t happen?”
A few weeks later I was at the supermarket picking up things for dinner. Just knowing David would be joining the family around the table made my shopping more enjoyable. I should enjoy it while it lasts, I thought as I got up to the cash register. The man behind me in line helped me unload my cart onto the conveyer belt.
“David seems to be doing a lot better,” the man said.
“Oh, do you know my son?”
“I live in town,” the man said. “One night several months ago my car broke down up there in the woods. I couldn’t get any phone reception. I asked God to send an angel to help me and began walking. About five minutes later David crashed out of the trees. I recognized him, although he was very distraught; He was yelling about spiders crawling all over him. He handed me his keys and begged me to drive him home. To tell the truth I was a little afraid of him in that state,” the man said, “but I knew if it were my son I’d want him home safe.”
I stared at him. “You drove David home?”
“Yup. I watched him get inside safely and used my cell to get a ride home myself. David sure wasn’t the angel I expected that night, but he was a lifesaver. My wife and I have been praying for him ever since.”
So David’s angel was real, all this time, I thought as I drove home from the store. He wasn’t a hallucination or one of David’s stories. God had answered David’s prayer, why couldn’t he have answered my own? I believed in David’s angel. I believed God was helping him. And now, finally, I believed David had left drugs behind him forever.
Excerpted from A Procession of Angels.
This story first appeared in the May 2008 issue of Angels on Earth magazine.